How to write a bibliography

Knowing how to write a bibliography can be a bit confusing to the uninitiated, but there are a few fundamentals to know in how to write a reference for your material:

  • you need to cite all work that is not your own — this can include words, ideas, statistics, photos, pictures, data
  • you need to cite all sources — websites, textbooks, DVDs, journals,
  • you need to cite your references in accordance with a bibliography format

When citing, there is no distinction between where you located the material, i.e. a book, the internet, on a DVD.

When you write a bibliography, you don’t actually need to cite all material though, it will depend on whether the material you are writing about is deemed ‘common knowledge’ or well-known sayings. Just remember it is an ethical choice on your part as to whether you do so or not in this instance.

What do I need to know to write a bibliography?

What is a bibliography?

A bibliography is a listing of sources of works you cite throughout your writing and these are written in a specific format. It is also referred to as a Works Cited reference page.

When do I use a bibliography?

You need to write a bibliography for essays, reports and any form of writing where you need to identify other contributors to your work through the research you have conducted.

When you cite a source it needs to be included as an entry in your Bibliography as having been referenced within your writing.

What is a Bibliography Format?

There are a number of different style guides and formats for in-text citation and Works Cited or Bibliography page you can use when you write a bibliography and they are:

The MLA Bibliography Style

More in-depth guidelines on how to use the MLA style can be found in the MLA Handbook (Chapter 6) and the MLA Style Manual (Chapter 7).

When you use the MLA style and cite the work of others within your text, there is a technical name for it and it’s ‘parenthetical citation’.

How to cite a quote or paraphrased ideas, here’s a bibliography example …

 Publishers have been described as “rejection merchants” (Taylor 12).

<Author’s name> space <page number(s)>

When you cite text in your writing, it needs to then be placed on your Works Cited or Bibliography page and this is how the above sample would be listed:

 Taylor, Amanda. The Inside World of Publishers, Publishing & Printing of Non-Fiction Titles.<Printer>, <Year>

The reason you write a bibliography or use the Works Cited page, is a way of providing readers with a more detailed listing of references you have used for your writing.

How to cite multiple sources in the same sentence or parenthetical reference …

Simply add a semi-colon and a space after each surname.

Using the example above, it would read:

 Publishers have been described as “rejection merchants” (Taylor 12; Mather 68).

How to cite a quote when you don’t know who the author is …

When you write a bibliography, instead of using the author’s name, just use a short title.

Place the title in quotation marks (for a short work) and italics and underline (for longer works).


The APA Formatting & Style Guide

When using the APA style to write a bibliography, your signal phrases (those introducing that a quote is coming or has been), need to be as a past tense or present perfect tense.

For example:

        Taylor (2007) found

        Taylor (2007) has found that

You need to include the following information and in this order:

<Author’s Name>/<Name of Source>

<Year of Publication> — this is usually at the front of the book or at the bottom on an internet page

<Page Number(s)>

<Quotation Marks> — when you copy the words exactly as a quote

For example:

        According to Taylor (2007), “Authors have said that after having written their novels and dispatched them to multiple publishing houses, that publishers are rejection merchants (p. 12).” 

        Taylor (2007) conducted an in-depth study into the publishing industry and described publishers as “rejection merchants” (p. 12) … 

Paraphrasing in APA style …

If you are simply paraphrasing, you will only need to reference the <Author> and <Year> in your text although with the APA style, they do prefer to also have the page number as well, but it is not stipulated.

      In an in-depth study into the publishing industry (Taylor, 2007, p. 64) …

Long quotes in APA style …

If you are wanting to quote a long piece of work of more than a few sentences, you are best to create a free-standing block of text from a new line and you won’t require the quotation marks.

Indent the quote 5 spaces from the margin along with any new paragraphs in the quote. As you essay, report or paper will be double-spaced already, maintain the double-spacing in the quote.

When to use capitals, italics and underline when citing in-text …

There are a few fundamental rules in APA style when you write a bibliography and this is covered more in depth in the APA Formatting & Style Guide: In-Text Citations: The Basics Manual. However,

Initial Capitals (the first letter of each word)

  • When referencing a source: use initial capitals on all words that are 4 letters long or more in the title. Example: An Insight Into Publishing  
  • Use an initial capital on the first word after a colon (:) or dash (-). Example: The Title 
  • You do not use them though for short words that are adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, nouns or verbs. Example: Authors and Publishing

Italics & Underline

  • When you are citing a longer reference or published books, movies, albums or something on television. For example: The World Around Us


The Turabian Citation Style Guide

One of the best resources I’ve found that details this particular style and provides a guide is put out by the Ohio State University — take a look if you need this one.

The Chicago Manual Of Style

They have a complete website dedicated to what you need to know. There’s an enormous amount of information there on everything from punctuation, spelling and the like. But Chapter 13 deals with quotations and dialogue.

There’s also a book called The Chicago Manual of Style which may be helpful to you.

The Gregg Reference Manual

This is another style manual and depending on what institution you are studying with or what your company protocols are, will depend on which style manual has been nominated for you to use. Even different countries nominate preferences in this regard.

Here’s where you’ll find more information from their own website

How do I write an annotated bibliography?

An annotated bibliography is a standard bibliography that lists all the resource references alphabetically, but also includes a brief description or summary (annotation) alongside the reference. This can be helpful to an author in being able to evaluate content or the calibre of publication.

In Summary

All in all, if you are writing an essay, a report or are a freelance writer, you will need to check which style manual is preferred as this can affect your marks or the way your work is perceived whether or not you have followed the guidelines correctly.

Do you make the mistake of over-using quote marks? This is more often done in narrative writing when someone is speaking. There is a common misconception that when you start a new paragraph, you need to close off/start new quotes, but this is not the case. Because the person is still speaking, you do not close off the quote marks.

Here’s an example:

          “I can’t believe that Emma didn’t buy the green sweater after all the laid on drama,” says Sara. “She really can be a bit of a drama queen.

“Yesterday, we went to five shops trying to find that same sweater, but no, nothing.”

Notice that there is no closed off quote after the end of the first paragraph ‘queen’, but they start up again with ‘yesterday’.

This particularly applies if you are quoting long pieces of a resource, to ensure you do not transpose incorrectly.


David Warlick (The Landmark Project), has created the Citation Machine which is an interactive web tool designed to assist high school, college, and university students, their teachers, and independent researchers in their effort to respect other people’s intellectual properties.

In this blog I’ve included  the bibliography format for MLA, APA, Turabian and Chicago. Be sure to know what format your institution or workplace requires of you from the outset before you write your essay. It will assist you in the research and referencing stage.

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